The United States has never had a shortage of bright, vibrant, and forward-thinking cities, and New Orleans is definitely in the top-5. It’s one of the most diverse, culturally-rich, and technologically advanced hubs of the country. New Orleans is home to a long list of healthcare, manufacturing, energy, and tech giants. How did “The Big Easy” become a powerhouse, though?
Looking at the breath-taking skyscrapers, billion-dollar businesses, and the ever-growing number of startups in New Orleans, you might wonder: how did this happen? Well, it all started in the early 19th century, back when the United States was doing its first steps on the geopolitical map. Join us, and let’s take a quick dive into history to get right to the bottom of this!
Colonial Times: The French, the Spanish, and the Louisiana Deal
Did you know that “The heart and soul of Louisiana” was founded by the French back in 1718? That’s right, and five years later, they transferred control over the city to the Spanish just so that the British couldn’t get their hands on it. For the better half of the 18th century, Nueva Orleans (that’s what the Spanish used to call it) was a strategic, cultural and trading partner for South America.
So, how does the United States fit in this story? Did the Americans take the city by brute force? Well, not quite! In 1800, Spain retroceded Louisiana (a bustling colony) back to France. Three years later, in 1803, Napoleon Bonaparte sold it to the US. The deal was later nicknamed the “Louisiana Purchase” and marked the rise of the United States. In 1830, the Pontchartrain Railroad and New Basin Canal made lake trade possible for New Orleans.
By 1850, then-home to one of the largest ports on the continent, New Orleans became the wealthiest city in the States. The export of America’s cotton output to England and Europe helped the country’s economy grow at an exponential rate. By the 1900s, after decades of a righteous fight against racism, the city had embraced jazz, electrified cars, and forward-thinking draining technology, attracting even more regular folks and international businesses.
WWII: the Biggest Catalyst for the City
During the most devastating war in the history of mankind – World War II – New Orleans was the largest base of operations for American planes, ships, and, of course, exports. Andrew Higgins, a local entrepreneur and the mastermind behind a fleet of unique ships for navigating the treacherous bayous of Louisiana, played a major role in the war. His vessels proved to be exceptionally capable of delivering goods and soldiers onto shallow beaches.
The Higgins ships were used by the United States Army on D-Day and pretty much every single major military campaign on the Pacific islands. After the war, New Orleans was “rewarded” with new highways, bridges, and the very first skyscrapers – a symbol of business and entrepreneurship. The oil glut in the 80s and the degradation of the port crippled the city’s economy, though. Tourism brought most of its former glory back, but it still wasn’t enough.
The 21st Century: A Breakthrough Despite All Odds
At the dawn of a new century, it was obvious that for New Orleans to stay afloat, it needed to embrace the next big thing – digital technology. Unfortunately, in 2005, Hurricane Katrina ravaged the better half of the East Bank, taking the lives of over 1500 people and costing the city $125 billion, a record for the US. To this day, many neighborhoods suffer from reduced population and poverty.
However, even a horrifying catastrophe couldn’t break the city’s spirit. Slowly, but steadily, it found its way back to the top. This was possible thanks to the courage of the locals, smart political decisions, and resonating triumphs like the New Orleans Saints winning the Super Bowl back in 2010. The city is still recovering, but the impactful economic development incentives, blossoming business ecosystem, and innovative solutions are pushing it through the crisis.
What Does the Future Hold?
The arrival of big tech companies like Accruent, DXC, and GE Digital also played its part in the rehabilitation of New Orleans. Today, the “Crescent City” is one of the best places for established and up-and-coming businesses to grow and prosper. Yes, the COVID-19 pandemic is a big challenge not only for New Orleans but for Louisiana and the entire country as well.
At the same time, as a well-established tech city, it has all the right tools for turning the pandemic into yet another springboard for economic growth. With people staying at home and relying on tech giants to survive, local software developers have a unique opportunity to satisfy this historically-high demand for cutting-edge solutions for businesses and regular folks all across the planet. It’s time for New Orleans to shine again!